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Which Mattress Firmness Should I Choose?

Which Mattress Firmness Should I Choose?

Besides aesthetic choices like colour and style, selecting the right firmness for your new mattress is a crucial decision. Trying to sleep on a mattress that just isn't quite right for you can lead to restless sleep, uncomfortable positions, and even joint, neck, back, and shoulder pain, so it's best to figure out what the best firmness is for you.

The perfect firmness for you is largely dependent on personal preference, but a number of factors can also be taken into account to make your decision easier. You should look to consider factors like your age, body weight, and average sleeping position to find the best sleeping experience for you.

This bed firmness guide will explain the five different types of mattress firmness, to give you a better idea of the right firmness for you and your sleeping style. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to choose the right mattress to ensure the comfortable and peaceful sleep you deserve, without any soreness.

What are the different types of firmness?

Mattress firmness is usually split into five different levels:

  • Soft
  • Medium
  • Medium to Firm
  • Firm
  • Extra Firm

As you would expect, these categories correlate to the feel of the mattress, essentially how much resistance the mattress offers as you lie on it. The average sleeper will sit between a medium and a firm, but don't just rely on this generalization. Mattresses are far from one-size-fits-all, so don’t limit yourself to just within this range.


A soft mattress is the least firm option available, giving a cushioned feel that compresses under pressure. Soft mattresses don’t typically offer the level of support that most sleepers desire - this comes in more towards the medium level - but they can be a great option for those with specific requirements.

Soft mattresses offer a lot of sinkage, resulting in the feeling of being ‘in’ the bed rather than ‘on’ it. Extremely soft mattresses don’t offer much in the way of support, since there is little resistance against your spine and limbs to properly brace them.

The benefits of soft mattresses are:

  • Pressure relief and consistent blood circulation since they are usually made of memory foam.
  • Ease pressure on back and joint pain as the mattress moulds around your position and the natural contours of your body.
  • Suitable for older sleepers as it can alleviate aches, without adding too much pressure.
  • Able to provide a great level of support for those who have a light build.
  • Less likely to wake up if you are a light sleeper.

As for sleeping positions, a soft mattress typically best suits a side sleeper, since it counteracts any potential aches and joint damage. A soft mattress allows your hip and shoulder to sink into the mattress as you lay on your side, keeping your spine aligned and preventing any back or joint pain that could arise from poor sleep posture.

For this reason, soft mattresses aren’t generally ideal for front or back sleepers; a softer mattress won’t offer the support for the hips and back that a firmer mattress would, which could lead to back problems in the future. Need help picking out the right mattress for the way you sleep? Check out our handy sleeping positions guide.


Medium mattresses, as you might expect, hit the sweet spot between soft and firm, and are a great best of both worlds choice. They combine the soft cushioning of softer styles with the density of a firmer mattress for more support.

The versatility of the medium mattress means that there are plenty of styles to pick from, depending on what you prefer; memory foam mattresses are designed to mould to all body shapes for those who favour a softer feel, while pocket sprung mattresses help prevent you from sinking into the mattress.

A medium mattress is a good choice for:

  • Heavier people who prefer a less rigid mattress, since it provides the additional support they need without the rigidity of a firm mattress.
  • Side sleepers can benefit from a medium mattress since they're still flexible enough to even out the spin and reduce pressure on your back. You can choose a memory foam style or add a mattress topper to cushion it even further. Read more to learn about the best mattresses for side sleepers.
  • Back sleepers, since the mix of cushioned softness and density for support helps to avoid any potential aches of pains without sacrificing comfort.

Front sleepers, however, would do better on a firmer mattress, in order to fully support their body in this position. Read more to find out what mattresses are best for stomach sleepers.

Medium to firm

Medium to firm mattresses still fall within that middle zone, but edge closer towards firm. This makes them great for most people since they cater to most sleeping positions and ages. They combine the luxurious cushioning of soft mattresses and the more rigid structure of firm ones, with less sinkage than a standard medium.

Front, back, and side sleepers can all achieve a healthy and restful sleep on a medium-firm mattress, although side sleepers may want to stay in the soft or medium region to ensure enough movement to allow their hips and shoulders to dip into the mattress and align their spine.

A medium to firm mattress is a good choice for:

  • Front and back sleepers, as it offers a bit more rigidity to avoid back pain and achy joints, while still giving some cushion for comfort.
  • Children, due to the fact that their bodies are constantly changing and growing, a child's mattress needs to be firm enough to adequately support their bones and joints. Too soft a mattress will not provide enough density to keep their bodies in a healthy posture and could lead to health problems.
  • For couples sharing a bed, since they offer extra firmness which eliminates any movement transference if one of you moves around in the night.


Offering little sinkage and more resistance to your body, firm mattress won’t give you much body contouring, so it’s best suited to back and front sleepers who don’t necessarily want to feel sucked into the mattress. It will also support your weight without causing pain to pressure points like your heels, rib cage, and shoulders. Once again, a firm mattress is also the best choice for children to ensure that they receive sufficient support as they grow.

Mattresses which are firm are also recommended for heavier people to ensure they receive enough support, there are ways to reduce the feeling of rigidity if you prefer a softer mattress. Memory foam mattress toppers are a great solution, as they provide a cushioned top layer to fit your contours, without having to sacrifice the extra support of a firm surface.

A firm mattress will also benefit:

  • People who suffer from back or spinal pain, since they offer more resistance, preventing any curvature of the spine that could exacerbate preexisting back pain. Read more about best mattresses for a bad back.
  • People who spend long periods of the day hunched over or sitting down, as the stability helps to reduce muscular aches and pains. This is because a firm mattress allows your bones to absorb most of the pressure, leaving your muscles free to relax.

Extra Firm

Extra firm mattresses are at the very top end of feasible firmness and are typically too hard for the average sleeper without a mattress topper. They are typically a specialist option that will work brilliantly for those who require its specifications but may not work as well for other sleepers.

Mattresses that are extra firm are designed to provide the right support to heavier people, in order to evenly distribute body weight and offer enough lumbar support to prevent aches and pains. Softer mattresses are often too plush to adequately brace a larger built person, so for the longevity of your mattress and the health of your joints and muscles, an extra firm mattress can be the best option.

An extra firm mattress is also recommended if you have:

  • Extreme neck, back, or joint pain, as the high density of the mattress prevents the spine from bowing and helps to keep your posture aligned.
  • Medical needs that are severe, then you may want to consider an orthopaedic mattress, to guarantee the specialist support you need. These mattresses help to achieve a healthy sleeping posture by reducing the strain on key pressure points in the body and encouraging proper spinal alignment.

If you do prefer a softer feel but require an extra firm mattress for any of these reasons, then a mattress topper could be the perfect solution. Usually comprised of memory foam, mattress toppers use mattress padding and a protective layer to conform to the contours of your body and offer a luxurious layer of comfort, without having to sacrifice the density of the mattress underneath.

What mattress firmness is best?

Clearly, there are many factors that can influence how well a mattress suits you and your sleep, as well as many different types of mattresses and accessories. Among all these recommendations, it’s important to remember that your personal preferences and tastes are also very important; only you know the way you sleep best, and so any decision about what mattress is best for you should always take into account your own experiences and comfort.

Here at MattressNextDay, we pride ourselves on our extensive collection of high quality, comfortable mattresses and accessories, from some of the UK’s most prestigious brands. Our website has examples of every firmness, as well as bedding and accessories to really personalise your sleep for you. To chat with one of our experts about how to get the best sleep for you, give us a call on 0333 0069 769.

Author: Lucy

Lucy is a copywriter, trend spotter, and our resident sleep expert! Lucie has been with the team since 2018 and her articles cover a sweeping array of subjects from general product care, the latest bedroom design trends, ways to promote healthier sleep and jargon-busting explanations to help you understand what goes into our products. Do you have questions for Lucy & the team? Call one of our sleep experts today!